December 1999 Industry Update

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Processor Update

Only a few weeks ago, AMD released their 750MHz Athlon, and announced their 533MHz K6-2. This puts AMD once again ahead in the MHz race, though now Intel appears to be claiming that MHz is not the most important issue (after years of claiming that it is). It appears that while AMD could have released the 750MHz processor at .25 micron, they were close enough to shipping a .18 micron processor that they decided to wait.

With the .18 micron die, AMD now has the ability to meet or beat Intel processors whenever they wish. In fact, AMD was showing off a 900MHz Athlon at Comdex using standard cooling methods, and word has it that 1GHz is possible today. Of course, it would be a foolish marketing move to bump the speeds too quickly. Depending upon what Intel does, it seems extremely likely that we will see 1GHz processors before the end of Q2 ’00.

Unofficially, it appears that the K6-2+ will replace the K6-III processors. Though the K6-III 500 has been highly anticipated for several months – even with some vendors advertising them for sale ‘soon’, our recommendation is to not hold your breath. Apparently, the yield at higher speeds is not what AMD is happy with due to problems getting all 256K of L2 cache to operate. What this means is that both the K6-2+ and K6-III will actually come from the same wafer. It is possible that if there are sufficient K6-2+ processors to satisfy the market, and some viable K6-III 500MHz dies are produced, some markets (such as notebooks) may see a small quantity of them.

The original intent of the K6-III was to compete with the Pentium II/III, while the K6-2 was to compete with the Celeron. Unfortunately, AMD had some problems with this strategy, as many compared the K6-III with the Celeron. With the Athlon now competing in the Pentium III space, the K6-III is now more-or-less squeezed out, and the K6-2+ will compete head-to-head with the Celeron with identically sized 128K L2 cache. Though we have not seen any benchmarks, it is likely that the smaller cache size will not make a huge performance difference in standard benchmarks.

VIA has announced that their Joshua processor (previously, the Cyrix Gobi) will be released in early Q1 ’00, beginning at 400MHz. This processor will also compete against the Celeron, and obviously the K6 line of processors. VIA expects to ramp up speeds fairly quickly, getting to 500MHz within a short time. This processor will be Socket 370, allowing them to leverage the large market base of motherboards already available.

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